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Background checks for sheriff's office, police

Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Frank Main

The Cook County sheriff's office and the Chicago Police Department are launching new efforts to weed out bad apples.

Sheriff Tom Dart recently ordered his internal-affairs investigators to conduct background checks on every one of the office's roughly 7,000 employees, spokesman Steve Patterson said.

Under the department's rules, every sworn law enforcement officer is required to report any contact with police. If they don't, they could be fired, Patterson said. Also, any sworn officer with a felony conviction can't keep that post, he said.

"As for civilian employees, we'd look at it on a case-by-case basis," Patterson said.

The Chicago Police Department, meanwhile, is sending four officers and a sergeant through training to operate polygraph machines. Anyone applying to be an officer will have to take a lie-detector test, said Ted O'Keefe, head of the department's personnel division.

Patterson said the sheriff's office already requires people applying for sworn positions to take a polygraph test. Sworn positions include correctional officers, court deputies and police officers.

Applicants are asked about drug sales, theft, time-sheet fraud, vandalism, gang affiliations and arrests, Patterson said. Last year, 295 applicants took polygraph tests, he said.

"The test gives us tremendous insight into the backgrounds of people applying for law enforcement jobs," he said, adding, "The test results aren't the sole determining factor in deciding whether someone gets hired."



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